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Sentencing Juvenile Offenders

The U.S. Supreme Court heard arguments this week about whether life without the possibility of parole is cruel and unusual punishment for juveniles convicted of aggravated murder. At the same time, Oregon’s parole board is considering release dates for five Oregon men who have been incarcerated since they were boys. All five were convicted of aggravated murder before they turned 17 and all of them were sentenced to life with the possibility of parole. Last year, a state supreme court ruling said that these men — known as the Oregon Five — should be eligible for parole sooner than their sentences originally allowed.

The first of the five had a parole hearing Tuesday. Conrad Engweiler was convicted of killing his high school classmate, Erin Reynolds, when he was 15. He’s been behind bars for 22 years and yesterday’s hearing set his projected release date for 2018. Parole hearings for the other four men are expected soon. Two of them, twins Lydell and Laycelle White, were convicted of the double homicide of an elderly couple in 1993. The following year, 16-year-old Sterling Cunio was tried as an adult for kidnapping and killing two young people. Shane Sopher has spent more than half his life in prison for his involvement in the murder of his girlfriend’s mother when he was 16.

Some argue that youth offenders are more likely to be rehabilitated than adults who commit similar crimes, but others disagree, saying age should not be a factor in sentencing for youth who commit murder or other serious crimes because the consequences for victims are the same regardless of the offender’s age.

Has your life been affected by this issue? Has a young person in your family been convicted of a serious crime? Are you or your family the victim of a crime perpetrated by a juvenile?

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